AFC West: Brian Billick
With five games remaining, both the Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers have to be considered prime candidates to make a coaching change. The Chiefs are 1-10, and Romeo Crennel has to be in danger even though he is in his first full season as coach. In San Diego, Norv Turner’s team is 4-7. It was a major surprise that the team kept Turner after last season. I don’t see any way he makes it to another season, barring an unlikely playoff berth.
The coach firings might not be the end in both cities. If Crennel is fired, general manager Scott Pioli will likely suffer the same fate. I get the feeling Kansas City owner Clark Hunt wants to keep both Pioli and Crennel, but the fan fury is so great, I doubt he'll be able to. San Diego general manager A.J. Smith may also be on the firing line, but I can see a situation where he is kept and Turner is not.
There is always a chance Oakland owner Mark Davis can lose patience and end the Reggie McKenzie-Dennis Allen tandem after one season (or just get rid of coach Allen). But I believe Davis will stick with the current situation despite a disappointing first year.
With potential change in the air, let’s look at some of the coaching candidates, in alphabetical order, who could be available:
Brian Billick, former Baltimore head coach: Billick is interesting because he is a Super Bowl-winning coach who might be reasonably priced. He has a reputation for being a strong offensive mind and a strong leader. He could fit in both San Diego and Kansas City, and I think he could work with an established general manager.
Bill Cowher, former Pittsburgh head coach: When Cowher decides he wants to come back, he will likely have his pick of jobs. I’m not sure if any of the AFC West jobs would be more attractive to him than others. Still, Cowher has a history in Kansas City and is the dream coach for many Chiefs fans. But he may be way too pricey for the team.
Jack Del Rio, Denver defensive coordinator: Del Rio has done a terrific job in Denver and had lots of head coaching experience in Jacksonville. I have a feeling he may remain Denver’s defensive coordinator, but he could be a reasonably priced option for the Chiefs or Chargers.
Jon Gruden, former Oakland and Tampa Bay head coach: The most frequent question I get from readers is this: Is there a chance Gruden could come back to coach the Raiders? I’ve heard that countless times since Gruden was fired by Tampa Bay after the 2008 season. My answer now is the same as always: Probably not. There have been plenty of opportunities for Gruden to come back to Oakland and it has not happened. Never say never, but I’d be surprised. If there is a fit this offseason in the division, I’d say it would be San Diego. I think Gruden -- some reports say the University of Tennesee wants to hire Gruden -- would love to live in San Diego, and he’d love to work with Rivers. I’m not saying Gruden is a favorite to end up in San Diego, but it wouldn’t shock me.
Chip Kelly, University of Oregon head coach: See Cowher. Kelly will get his pick of jobs and he will cost a ton. I’m not sure he’d fit in the AFC West, although working with Rivers could be intriguing to him.
Mike McCoy, Denver offensive coordinator: He is going to be a hot candidate. I think the preferred destination for McCoy, a former Panthers assistant, is to go to Carolina if the Panthers fire Ron Rivera; he is highly regarded there. I could see him receiving interest from the Chiefs as well. He is young, bright and won’t break the bank.
Andy Reid, Philadelphia head coach: Reid is very likely entering his last month in Philadelphia after a tenure that started in 1999. The word around the league is that he will get instant interest. If Reid doesn’t opt to take time off, I could see San Diego being a fit. He has a home in the area and he’d work well with Rivers. But would the Chargers want to replace Turner with a veteran coach who just flamed out after a long stay with a team?
Rex Ryan, New York Jets head coach: It is no sure thing he will be fired, but there’s a chance. I think he could get some interest in the AFC West. He was a finalist in San Diego when Turner got the job. I think the Chiefs could also be interested. They have the makings of a good 3-4 defense -- Ryan’s specialty. Putting him in a small media market could also save Ryan from himself occasionally.
David Shaw, Stanford University head coach: This is one of my favorites. I can really see Shaw ending up in San Diego. He was born there and may be one of the hot young coaches available. I think he’d be perfect for San Diego whether Smith is there or not. His father, Willie Shaw, was a longtime NFL assistant. David Shaw played for Bill Walsh. He worked for Al Davis. He was an assistant to Jim Harbaugh and he has coached Luck. And he has won as a head coach. If I was hiring a coach next month, I’d seriously investigate this 40-year-old.
In other AFC West news:
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported the Titans are not expected to place the franchise tag on cornerback Cortland Finnegan. That is relevant to the AFC West for a couple of reasons. Finnegan will provide competition for Kansas City cornerback Brandon Carr on the open market. Finnegan will also likely attract the interest of the Broncos and the Raiders. Both teams are looking for cornerbacks, although Finnegan will be pricey on the open market.
Former Denver cornerback Perrish Cox was acquitted in a sexual assault trial Friday. I have been asked often Friday if I think the Broncos could re-sign him. I don’t see it. I think the Broncos have moved on. Perhaps Cox will get a chance elsewhere in the NFL, but I don’t expect it to be in Denver.
In a radio interview, San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers talks about the retirement of guard Kris Dielman, and how strange it was to recently work out with a division rival.
An Insider piece connects LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers to the Broncos. I think the Broncos would do back flips if Brockers was available at No. 25.
Former NFL coach Brian Billick looks at why he thinks the Chiefs are a good fit for Peyton Manning.
They reported that the team and Allen are trying to take the final steps to making Allen the Raiders’ coach. They reported that candidates Marty Mornhinweg and Mike Tice were told Oakland is going in another direction.
Later Tuesday, CSN Bay Area reported the Raiders are considering Allen, Green Bay linebackers coach Winston Moss and a mystery candidate. The report said New Orleans offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael has also been told he not be the head coach in Oakland.
Other candidates named for the job are former Miami interim coach Todd Bowles, Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom Capers and Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy. However, McCoy backed out of his interview in Oakland to concentrate on a second interview in Miami. He did not get that job.
I know what many of you may be thinking when you read the “mystery” candidate? It is Jon Gruden? I know many Oakland fans would want nothing more to see Gruden head back to Oakland. But I’d still characterize that chance as a long shot. I heard Tuesday former Baltimore coach Brian Billick would be interested to returning to the sideline if the right job opened. However, it is not clear if Oakland would have interest.
The bottom line is, these report are indications that Oakland’s 14-day search may be winding down.
UPDATE: CSN Bay Area is reporting that Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie said Allen is not a “lock” for the job. But by reading McKenzie’s comments, it is clear Allen has an opportunity to nail down this job.
Among the names are usual suspects Bill Cowher, Jeff Fisher, Jon Gruden and Brian Billick. More names will emerge, however.
One name to keep an eye on is Philadelphia coach Andy Reid. Even though there have been indications that Reid, who has been the Eagles coach since 1999, may be safe, restless Eagles fans want Reid to pay for the Eagles’ disappointing 4-8 season. If the Eagles continue to falter, Reid could be let go.
I have been asked often if I think Reid would be a good fit in San Diego and my answer is a resounding yes.
Reid is an upper-echelon coach. Don't be swayed by the Eagles’ poor season. If Turner is fired and Reid is available, he should be a top candidate.
I think he would be a fit in San Diego if general manager A.J. Smith stays or if he is let go. Reid has worked with general managers in Philadelphia and he doesn’t seem like he’d have a problem having a football boss.
He’d be a good fit with quarterback Philip Rivers, and I think he could do nice things with the Chargers’ offense. Reid, 53, is one of the more respected coaches in the NFL, thus, he’d likely be able to attract a strong coaching staff.
Reid is from Los Angeles and would likely love to go to San Diego.
I think the only question if Reid is fired is if he’d want to take a year off. Often, when coaches end a long relationship with a team, they want to take a year off -- see Jeff Fisher and Mike Shanahan.
If Turner is fired, it could be too appealing for Reid to pass up if he’s available. I’m not saying this is a sure pairing. But if everything falls into place, I could see it happening.
Future from Fla. wants to know if I think the Kansas City Chiefs could draft Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III.
Bill Williamson: I don’t think drafting a quarterback in the first round will be the Chiefs’ first priority. I think they will look at improving both lines first. At this point, it seems like a long shot to me.
Jake Dunne from East Lansing, Mi. wants to know if I think there is a chance Peyton Manning could be Denver’s quarterback next season.
BW: I actually could see it if the Broncos go away from Tim Tebow, which may be unlikely if he continues to win. Manning ending up in Denver is a long shot and a lot would have to happen. First, the Colts would have to decide to either trade or cut Manning. And again, the Broncos would have to decide to move away from Tebow. But I can very much see John Elway being interested in adding a future Hall of Famer to his roster even if it were for the short term. We have seen the impact Manning can have on a team. So, if the Colts make him expendable, I think Denver would be on the list of teams that would have a legitimate interest in Manning.
Steve from Fallbrook, Ca. wants to know if I think Michigan coach Brady Hoke could be a candidate to coach the Chargers if Norv Turner is fired.
BW: I can see why you asked that question, Steve. Hoke was popular in San Diego as the coach at San Diego State. But I think he is very happy at Michigan and he may be better suited to coach in the college ranks, anyway. It’s an interesting thought, but I not sure he’d be a candidate. I think the Chargers will look for experienced, former NFL head coaches. One name to keep an eye on may be former Baltimore coach Brian Billick. Big names such as Bill Cowher and Jeff Fisher will continue to surface as well.
The NFL said it will expect its players to live up to the league’s personal conduct policy during the lockout. Thus, Henderson could be disciplined by the league when the lockout ends after his arrest Thursday for carrying a concealed weapon. There is no guarantee Oakland will try to re-sign Henderson. It is expected to try to upgrade the offensive line through the draft.
Here are some other AFC West-related nuggets on a Friday afternoon:
New Denver coach John Fox caught up with some old friends at an NCAA tournament game Thursday.
Here is a look at how strong-legged Denver kicker Matt Prater could benefit from a proposed new kickoff rule.
Former NFL coach Brian Billick takes a look at the Chiefs’ draft needs.
Oakland Hall of Fame tight end Dave Casper is not a fan of the lockout. He blames both the players and the owners. Here are some of Casper’s thoughts about the lockout mess:
Casper said he had "no idea" how the labor disagreement between the owners and NFL players would be resolved, likening the stalemate to a "bunch of 26-year-olds" showing their testosterone against owners "more afraid of each other in general. I just don't know," he said.
I wouldn’t be surprised to hear more former players chime in on this issue as it drags on.
If Denver fans are looking for a household name or seat filler, they may want to temper your hopes. While the list can change at any time, the current group of the Broncos’ candidates is not filled with bright-light names.
Elway said Friday the Broncos are likely out of the Harbaugh talks. Elway did say he is seeking permission to talk to former Denver assistant and current Houston offensive coordinator Rick Dennison and he may call former Giants coach Jim Fassel. Elway has ties to both men.
Other people Denver is going to interview are Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell (who may be the top choice at the moment) and Denver interim coach Eric Studesville. New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is expected to be interviewed when the Saints’ season is complete. Atlanta offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey (considered by many as a top Denver choice) has postponed his interview until after the Falcons’ season ends.
Once you get past Mularkey and perhaps Fewell, this isn’t an overly exciting list. It’s not to say these aren’t good coaches, but they are far from Harbaugh when it comes to name recognition.
In the end, I’m not surprised Harbaugh probably isn't going to end up in Denver. He was too costly for the Broncos’ blood. Plus, I’m not sure if it was a great fit. It seems to me that Harbaugh is the type who will want to make his own decisions. After moving away from Mike Shanahan and Josh McDaniels in the past two years, the Broncos want their coach to just coach and not make personnel decisions.
Any of the above names would surely be fine with that arrangement.
I wouldn’t be surprised if other names pop up. They could include former Baltimore coach Brian Billick, Miami defensive coordinator and former Denver defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, Philadelphia assistant Marty Mornhinweg, San Diego defensive coordinator Ron Rivera and Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom Capers.
Billick could be an interesting candidate. He likely wouldn’t be overly expensive and he has had a lot of NFL success.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Atlanta offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey has postponed his interview with Denver until after the Falcons’ playoff run. That could be in a month if the Falcons – the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs – advance to the Super Bowl.
Mularkey will honor his Saturday interview with Cleveland because the Browns called first. Mularkey is trying to concentrate on the Falcons’ playoff run. By NFL rules, coaches from playoff teams with first-round byes can interview during the bye.
Mularkey’s decision likely won’t make Denver happy. But perhaps the Broncos will wait for him. There was talk in league circles that Mularkey was at the top of Denver’s list. Elway tweeted that he respects Mularkey's decision to hold off on the interview.
In addition to the Mularkey delay of game penalty, the Broncos might be close to losing out on Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh. Wednesday, Elway publicly said the Broncos will call Harbaugh. But Miami is heavily pursuing Harbaugh.
So, Denver might have to explore alternative routes. Other potential offensive coaching candidates include former Baltimore coach Brian Billick, Oakland offensive coordinator Hue Jackson and St. Louis offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. If Denver really wants to spend big money, it could look into Jon Gruden, but that seems to be a longshot.
Denver has an interview set with Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell and is expected to talk to Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams when their season is over.
Mid-week mail call:
Jeff from Boulder, Co wants to know why Kansas City coach Todd Haley is not using his running backs more.
Bill Williamson: Haley needs to need to find his comfort zone as the Chiefs’ play caller. He was a terrific play caller as the offensive coordinator in Arizona. But it seems like he is having trouble adjusting to playing with lesser talent. But after the Chiefs had fourth quarter success in Jacksonville Sunday passing the ball, I think he will be more of a passing offense. The Chiefs finally showed a spark and they have to continue to do so.
Tom from San Diego wants to know why Chargers linebacker Shaun Phillips doesn’t get more credit for being a good player.
BW: In NFL circles, Phillips is known as a fine player. He is a team leader and he is a smart, passionate player. When Phillips plays well, so does the entire San Diego defense. That’s what is happening now. Phillips has five sacks in San Diego’s last three games, all victories.
Paul Camelo from Albany, NY wants to know if the rumors of Brian Billick becoming the Raiders’ next coach could happen.
BW: There has been rumors, but I don’t think it’s a perfect fit. I think Billick will look at other possibilities. There could be 8-10 openings this year. I don’t think Billick would show interest in Oakland if he had other opportunities. If so, though, it would be a great move by the Raiders, if they do end up moving away from Tom Cable.
The National Organization for Women is calling for Oakland head coach Tom Cable to be suspended while the team investigates abuse allegations.
This ratchets up the pressure on both the Raiders and the NFL to do something about this. Both the team and league are reviewing the allegations. But as long as the court of public opinion chimes in, this story will not go away.
Greg Garber has an excellent piece on the Jacksonville Jaguars’ attendance woes on ESPN.com. If you look at it, the Raiders aren’t much better off.
The Jaguars have suffered four blackouts this season and they are averaging 45,000-plus fans a game. In three of their four home games, Oakland has been blacked out. The Raiders sold out their opener, but have had fewer than 46,000 fans for their other home games, including a crowd of 38,000-plus in their last home game.
Because of the Raiders’ poor record, there is a chance the team will have to deal with a local television blackout for the rest of the season. The Raiders have a solid fan base and they likely won’t leave Oakland again, but the Raiders aren’t in much better shape than the Jaguars are as far as attendance goes.
There is talk that former Baltimore coach Brian Billick could end up in Oakland next season if there is a coaching change. If Oakland could get a coach of the caliber and experience of Billick, it needs to jump at the chance. I think Billick may get a better offer, though.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick waxed poetic about several of his coaching brethren who will not be roaming the sideline in 2009. Belichick was at the scouting combine in Indianapolis on Sunday.
Belichick said it "doesn't seemed right" that coaches such as Mike Shanahan, Jon Gruden, Brian Billick and Steve Mariucci are not coaching. He was particularly complimentary of Shanahan, who was fired by Denver after 14 seasons in December. Shanahan had opportunities to talk to teams this offseason but he has opted to wait for 2010.
Shanahan is known as one of the best offensive minds in the game and Belichick is considered the best defensive mind in the game. In the 2005 playoffs, Denver handed Belichick and Tom Brady their first postseason defeat in New England.
Belichick clearly will miss facing Shanahan when the Broncos and Patriots play in Denver in 2009.
"Mike Shanahan is certainly a Hall of Fame coach," Belichick said. "I know I've got to be on the list of people he'll thank because of all the games that have been scheduled against us. He has done pretty well. Including when I was an assistant at the Jets and even with the Patriots. I know I haven't beaten him too many times. I'm not disappointed to not have him on our schedule, believe me. It's just hard to believe that coaches like Mike Shanahan and Jon Gruden aren't coaching in the National Football League, but that's not my decision. It's just odd for them to be here but not in a coaching capacity."
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
Mid-week mail call:
Will from SD: Hey Bill, love the blog. I have a question about the Chargers' draft this year. A lot of the more recent mock drafts have the Chargers taking a running back with their first pick in the draft. However, doesn't it make more sense to take an impact defensive player? I'm actually not convinced that Merriman is going to resign with the team when he becomes an unrestricted free agent, and I think adding an impact linebacker or defensive lineman might be more beneficial to the defense than risking money on a high-pick running back. Thoughts?
Bill Williamson: Will, I can see both points. Replacing LaDainian Tomlinson in the draft, whether he is with the team or not in 2009, is a good idea. But if there is an impact player available at either linebacker or defensive line, the Chargers need to consider going those routes as well. Picking 16th, I think the Chargers are in a good position to find a solid player who will help regardless of the position he plays.
Adam from Bismarck: Lets say that Mel Kiper is right about the Broncos drafting B.J. Raji in the first round. What are the chances that a linebacker like Brian Cushing will still be available in the 2nd round?
Bill Williamson: Raji had a great Senior Bowl week so he is rising up draft boards and he may be difficult to get at No. 12. Denver will look at other defensive linemen and linebackers. As for getting Cushing in the second round, I think he will be a top-25 pick at this point.
Joe from Sacramento, CA: Hey Bill, I love the blog and your doing a great job. I was just wondering what are the realistic chances that Denver parts ways with Champ Bailey? I know he had a down year but he still is our best defensive player and an elite corner and would be a the foundation in the secondary. Keep up the good work!
Bill Williamson: Thanks for the kind words, Joe. I wrote about the possibility of Bailey potentially playing elsewhere last week. I think a lot would have to happen to get to that point. But Bailey will want to discuss a new contract sooner than later. If the Broncos aren't interested in paying Bailey, an issue would possibly arise. But, right now, I'd say the odds are that he does return. And, yes, he is still the Broncos' best defensive player.
Rob from KC: Bill, just wanted your thoughts on if you think Brian Billick would be a GREAT head coach of the Chiefs? Should they at least give him som Consideration?
Bill Williamson: Billick would be an interesting choice. He has a ring and he is a pro. I haven't heard his name much but he is a proven solid football coach.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
It is being reported the Cleveland Browns are planning to talk to Mike Shanahan about their open position. Shanahan could be intrigued by the power that the Cleveland job would offer and the chance to work with young quarterback Brady Quinn. The word is Shanahan is as open to coaching in 2009 as he is intrigued by the idea of talking the season off.
In his press conference, Pat Bowlen said that Broncos' personnel staff is safe. The thinking of the organization at this point is to bring in a new coach and have him work with the current front office.
The team may keep passing game coordinator Jeremy Bates. If so, that could mean the team is leaning toward keeping a defensive-minded coach.
Here are some of the more interesting quotes from Bowlen and Shanahan's press conference in Denver Wednesday:
On whether he has a role available for John Elway
"John Elway has lots of things to do and he's got a business life of his own and he is a very busy man, involved with the (Arena Football League) Crush. I haven't talked to John, and I don't have any idea if he has any interest."
On whether he has talked with any of the players and gotten their reactions
"I talked to (QB) Jay Cutler, and Jay understood the conversation. I talked to him this morning. I didn't get any negative feedback. I think he understands enough about the business of football, the game of football, that there are going to be coaching changes and changes in organizations. I didn't sense that Jay had any negative feelings about it, and I'm sure he is very interested in who is going to be the next head coach. Obviously, he is the man around here now, so I will be talking with Jay."
On how he would react if Shanahan got a job within the AFC West
"I wouldn't be too happy if it was Kansas City. But Mike will have a lot of opportunities to go to different teams. If I am consulted by one of those teams, I will give him the highest marks I can."
On what he thought Bowlen was going to talk to him about
"I wasn't really sure. Maybe lunch, my new restaurant that I have to promote that I'm not getting any cash for right now."
On what he is looking for in his next job
"Everything... and players. (Whatever) gives you the best chance to win. A person (owner) that wants to compete, a person that wants to win the championship as badly as you do. That would be No. 1. Ownership that wants to win just like you do and is willing to go to extremes to get that done."
On if he talked with QB Jay Cutler
"I did talk to Cutler this morning. He tried to get in contact with me last night, and I called him this morning."
On the importance of Denver keeping some of its offensive staff
"Whoever the head coach that comes in (is), if he doesn't see what the offense did both in the running game and the passing game and the youth, (he) would have to be crazy not to try to keep the people that made it happen."
On if he wants to coach in college or the NFL
"Yeah, I think I'm an NFL guy. I'm not ruling anything out because when you don't have any jobs, beggars cannot be choosers. I'll just kind of wait and see. I'll look at anything out there to be honest with you, but I do love the NFL."
On if he would be surprised with John Elway working in Denver
"I think it would be great. You know what John Elway means to Denver. If I was a free agent coming in and John Elway was there, I would sign for no money. So it all depends on what John wants to do. There is a lot of time involved and John has got a lot going on. But I think John would be perfect for any organization, especially this one, if that's what he wanted to do."
This is what former Denver coach Dan Reeves had to say about Shanahan's firing on SIRIUS NFL radio:
"First of all it's a shock. I had no idea that that would happen. I don't think anybody did. Gosh, I think Mike had three years left on his contract and he and [owner] Pat [Bowlen] seemed to have such a great relationship. I certainly didn't see that. I know that had to be a big disappointment, having a three-game lead with three games to go and to have that happen. It had to be disappointing for everybody. I was shocked. They have constantly been one of the top offensive teams in the National Football League since Mike has been there and their defense over the last six or eight years has really struggled. But, you know, when you're in charge of everything then certainly the brunt of the decision has to fall on your shoulders."
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
For the first time in 14 years, Pat Bowlen will be making a significant hire as the owner of the Denver Broncos.
What will he do? Whatever he wants.
Bowlen is the possessor of the greatest job in the NFL as a result of his firing of coach Mike Shanahan.
Bowlen is in a great position. He can either hire a true successor to Shanahan and bring someone who is both the coach and general manager, or he can hire a new general manager and bring in a coach with less power.
Often in the NFL, after a long string of going in one direction, owners try the opposite. Thus, Bowlen could hire a general manager and a coach. There have been rumblings around Denver recently that if there was a change, Bowlen would go that route.
However, there is the Bill Cowher factor.
Bowlen could think the team is a Cowher away from being a Super Bowl contender. Cowher certainly would give the team a new direction. It is the best job on the market, without a doubt. Jobs like this don't often open.
That could be a workable marriage that would give Denver instant juice.
If not, Bowlen could jump in the Scott Pioli sweepstakes. Pioli is the most attractive general manager available.
Pioli could then hire New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. He would be a perfect fit in Denver. The team's centerpiece is quarterback Jay Cutler. McDaniels has a great reputation working with quarterbacks. That could be a fit.
Cutler is going to need a strong offensive mind to continue his development.
Other coaching possibilities could be Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, former Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick, or perhaps a defense-minded coach to shore up one of the worst units in the league -- New York Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz or San Diego Chargers defensive coordinator Ron Rivera.
Whatever decision he makes, Bowlen will have virtually the entire league at his disposal. The Denver job is the jewel of the league right now.